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Ten Ways to Collaborate

Whether you're hiring a General Contractor, using a Construction Consultant or managing your job as an Ownerbuilder, collaboration is the key to a successful home building or remodeling project.

A good way to start planning and organizing your project is collaborating with all the folks who'll join in your home building or remodeling endeavor. This becomes the first step toward establishing good relationships with the building community. It shows that you value their opinions and creates trust from the very beginning.

Most important is collaboration with lender, realtor, consultants, local building officials, architect, engineer, general contractor (if you require a GC), trade contractors, manufacturers and suppliers right from the get-go. Involve everyone from the start so you consider your options and get opinions before finalizing your project's specifications, drawings, and conditions.

By working concurrently with all the different folks who bring their unique talents and viewpoints to your project, you're in a better position to understand the function each person performs during the course of construction. A cross-functional team working together from the beginning invites the wisdom of each specialty, most certainly produces a higher quality end result, and always creates a better value for the dollar spent.

What occurs during collaboration is the combined efforts of the building community will help discover ways to do your job better. Collaboration across disciplines shows that you trust the opinions of the trades' people who actually build the job with as high regard as the design decision makers. A better project results from this creative dialog among blue and white-collar workers.

True collaboration can only be achieved by a free exchange of ideas. This is accomplished by looking at the details as well as considering the big picture at the same time. A systems approach to collaboration is quickly replacing the old fashion, linear method followed by traditional home building and remodeling.

If knowledge and experience are shared right from the start between all participants, collaboration leads to a better outcome.

Here are 10 ways to collaborate when you build or remodel your home:

1. Follow a process of "Progressive Approximation"

At the outset of your project, you must be emotionally prepared to raise more questions than answers. You need to consider alternative ideas for all the situations you'll face and find your way toward your best solution set through collaboration with the whole building community. Ideas are proposed, reviewed, changed, and represented for further review until you've arrived at your final destination. You don't always know where you're going, but you'll know it when you get there!

2. Create a project collage by developing a "Storyboard"

Develop a storyboard to depict the homestyle and lifestyle important to you. This will be a collage of product choices, design features, stain/paint splotches, roofing textures, floor covering samples, wood species, cabinets, appliances, lighting and plumbing fixtures, exterior and interior treatments. By visualizing your initial options, it shares what you have in mind with residential architects, contractors, and suppliers. Your storyboard becomes an ever-evolving work in progress, serving as a starting point and a source of continuing collaboration!

3. Contact public and private agencies to "Define Your Building Site"

Determine whether your site is buildable to your satisfaction, which means: Is your site's development economically feasible? Site zoning, easements, utility availability, and CCR's (Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions) are determining factors. If your site is near a wetland or in a historic neighborhood, there will also be special conditions that apply. Go directly to the web site of your local building department for information on permits and inspections for building code compliance. You'll want to collaborate with your local building department to review their checklist for what's required to make your site buildable; however, it's also necessary to study your piece of land, analyze it carefully, and let the site reveal its most beautiful aspects!

4. Use the World Wide Web as your preferred "R & D Tool"

Take advantage of free, online newsletters, forums, and product search engines. As you think about options for your storyboard, use product search engines like for fast and easy access to building product information. To collaborate with other consumers who've already done a project like yours, go to an online forum like to participate in discussion boards on every subject imaginable. And, subscribe to the email list at Sarah Susanka's web presence at By first identifying the products that suit you best, you can call local suppliers of these products and then ask them to email you product details as well as get their "preferred contractor" list!

5. Find team players who've done a "Project Like Yours"

As you assemble a project team to support your endeavor, always ask, "Have you previously done a project like mine?" If so, you'll be working with a lender, realtor, architect, manufacturers, contractors and suppliers as well as the different building agencies and utility companies who clearly understand the scope of work for the project you're doing. If you collaborate with folks who've done the type of project you're doing, then there's a deeper appreciation for the conditions you'll encounter, and what needs to be considered when working together!

"Every now and then go away and have a little relaxation. To remain constantly at work will diminish your judgment. Go some distance away, because work will be in perspective and a lack of harmony is more readily seen." - Leonardo da Vinci

6. Produce a budget using a "Construction Cost Breakdown"

Construction lenders utilize a Construction Cost Breakdown to itemize costs, and your project team should use this document as a shared, common format. The budgeting process requires you to go from rough guesstimates, to general estimates, cost analysis, and finally receive formal proposals. As you go through this sequential progression, make sure everyone is using the same format, and this means using the official Construction Cost Breakdown. Accompanying all options and ideas for each room, there should be a cost assigned to every phase of work and refined as collaboration continues!

7. Prepare a complete set of "Construction Documents"

Construction documents consist of three essential elements: Specifications, Drawings, and Conditions. Specifications are a written description of the products and materials to be used indicating manufacturer and model. Drawings are a graphic representation of the entire project including site, foundation, floors, roof, elevations, and cross-section plans. Conditions are a written set of instructions explaining the nature of the business relationship and terms of the agreement between buyer and seller. Before you finalize Specifications, Drawings, and Conditions, you'll want an opportunity to develop and review these documents with your project team and make any necessary adjustments collaboratively!

8. Apply the 4 R's of "Building Green"

By following a green approach, you anticipate Reducing waste, Reusing material, and Recycling debris before it becomes Refuse headed for the landfill. This eco-way requires you to incorporate Building Green principles into Specifications, Drawings, and Conditions documents early in the Design/Build process. The message conveyed to your project team is that you're not only committed to building a healthy home but you're going to implement a healthy construction site. This means you'll want to prepare the way for a "Green Award" to team players who introduce eco-friendly methods or products and keep your project clean, inside and out, on a daily basis!

9. Get ready to use a "Written Agreement"

As you think ahead about preparing a complete set of construction documents, which team members will eventually implement, you can't just shake hands on it when it comes time to form an agreement. You must sign off on construction documents by using a written agreement. Your written agreement references your Specifications, Drawings, and Conditions so there's a clear understanding of the scope of work to be performed, and everyone agrees to the terms of the construction documents. The best $500 you can spend is to collaborate with a construction law attorney for several hours to discuss your situation before officially accepting any offers!

10. Give your project team a variety of means to "Keep in Contact"

Never give anyone an excuse for saying, "I didn't know how to contact you." Provide any and every means for folks to get a hold of you whether it's by cell phone, email, fax, slug mail, or landline. Right from the beginning, maintain what is referred to in the industry as a "Punch List": This list contains anything that's incomplete or deficient. Of course, at the outset of your project this will include everything, but each meeting will be a way to progressively approximate the direction you're headed and clarify project details. You're truly whittling away at your Punch List from the very first day. Always give your project team multiple ways to keep in contact!

"Ten Ways to Collaborate" is an excerpt from Tom's presentation "Better Manage Your Home Building or Remodeling Project" being offered at colleges throughout the great Pacific Northwest region.

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